Petaluma Farms Sued Over "Cage-Free" Labeling

Animal-right group says Petaluma egg processor violates fair competition law by falsely depicting its eggs as free-range and charging consumers more money for the product


An animal rights group has filed a class action lawsuit against a Petaluma egg producer claiming the company falsely markets its eggs as cage-free order to charge eco-conscious consumers more money.

The suit, filed in California Superior Court Monday by the Animal Legal Defense Fund, alleges that Judy's Family Farm and Petaluma Farms engaged in unlawful, unfair and fraudulent business practices by creating labels that led consumers to believe they were buying cage-free eggs.

The group says the company did this by designing cartons that have an image of hens frolicking in open fields, leading shoppers to believe they were "free-range". The eggs are sold at Whole Foods, Safeway and Oliver's Market, where they cost more than $4 per dozen, significantly pricier than regular eggs.

According to the suit, the estimated 13,000 hens at Petaluma Egg Farms “spend their entire lives inside modern, barren industrial sheds with no grassy fields and no outdoor access," says the group, and are not raised in wide open spaces in Sonoma Valley, where they are free to ‘roam, scratch, and play.

Nor do they have access to the outdoors and enjoy large communal areas with natural ventilation and sunlight, according to the lawsuit.

The discrepancy between the marketing and the true conditions of the farm constitutes a violation of California’s Unfair Competition Law, False Advertising Law and Consumer Legal Remedies Act, the group says.

On Monday, the websites for both Judy’s Family Farm and Petaluma Egg Farm were down and a message and email sent to the company were not immediately returned.

But in a 2011 Press Democrat story, owner Steve Mahrt said that critics are ill-informed about what constitutes cage-free eggs.

“People have the expectation that all the chickens are outside,” Mahrt told the paper. “That doesn’t happen. That doesn’t happen anywhere.”

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, cage-free eggs mean that hens are not kept in conventional “battery” cages, although it doesn’t necessarily mean they have access to the outdoors or that the eggs have more nutrients. Nor does it mean the hens are kept in large spaces, but may be crammed into a warehouse shoulder-to-shoulder.

In its lawsuit, filed on behalf of an East Bay resident and other consumers, ALDF asks the court to barr Judy’s Eggs from using images that imply its products come from non-confined hens in an outdoor environment or use language that implies the hens were raised in open spaces.

It also seeks compensation for damages to consumers and a jury trial.

Find a copy of the complaint on the right.

“Americans spend more (money) for higher levels of animal welfare because they find the suffering of egg-laying hens objectionable,” the group wrote in its suit. "Deceptive packaging like that on Judy’s Eggs allows the company to profit from misleading well-intentioned consumers.”

What do you think? Are you concerned about mislabeling on eggs?

Sheri Cardo October 10, 2012 at 04:41 AM
Torture that they are raised inside without room to move around? I think so. I have seen chickens rescued from battery hen facilities feel the warmth of sunlight on their feathers for the first time and enjoy their first dust bath. Natural experiences that they never had had in their cramped indoor facilities. I'm not convinced we're on different pages, Bill, but your information needs updating.
Helen October 10, 2012 at 04:54 AM
Bill, do you think they're giving them "wide open spaces" indoors? Absolutely not. Google a picture of "free range" or "cage free" chickens and you'll see the horror these birds live in for their entire lives. They cram as many chickens as they can inside these facilities so that there is little if any room to even spread their wings. As I said, there's a reason they won't let anyone inside to witness this torture. The way these chickens are kept is not even close to humane, and anyone who thinks it is has no soul. From these tortured chickens come poisoned eggs...go ahead and eat them...and good luck not getting salmonella or some other form of disease, a fitting nature's revenge!
Samantha Bourdelier January 07, 2013 at 04:56 AM
There is no such thing as an ethical egg. Unless you are buying your eggs from a neighbor who has a small clutch of chickens there is no way. The way that a battery cage or free range free chickens are treated in fact the battery cage hens look better. I have seen a picture of cage free hens in a huge barn where the hens are just as crowded as if they were in a battery cage. The beaks of hens are cut off just the way the battery caged hens are. Also the male chicks are separated from the female chicks. They male chicks are killed because they cannot afford to be raised to maturity. They are either thrown in the garbage bin or ground up while they are still alive. This will happen whether they are free range, pasture eggs or cage free in large egg companies.. I saw this process on the Peta web site. It just made me sick at heart. See it for yourself. http://www.peacefulprairie.org/freerange1.html
Samantha Bourdelier January 07, 2013 at 05:12 AM
I think people should know that there is no such thing as a ethical egg. The difference between battery caged hens and free range hens and cage free hens are negligible. Then there is the pesky question about what is done with the male chicks. Since they cost too much to feed until maturity they are routinely thrown in the trash or ground up while still alive. Again that is the same with all chicks no matter if they are free range or cage free. It depends on the size of the hatchery. I must admit it has me confused. I wish I had neighbors who had chickens. Not where I live or I would have my own hens to treat as humanely as they deserve.
aDelphinium March 25, 2013 at 09:58 AM
Samantha; have you tried to find a community garden? I was a member of a community garden that had a bunch of chickens. These chickens are spoiled silly. They live much better than millions of people live. The chicken caretaker talks, sings to them. If he cooks something for diner, he gives them part of the dinner. Only problem was that the competition for the eggs was immense. You had to be there at the right time.


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